For the 2015 General Election the Palestine Solidarity Campaign decided to launch its biggest ever lobbying effort. Using “people power” and modern technology we kept costs to a minimum by enabling supporters to use an online “e-tool” to send emails to candidates and pass on their replies to the PSC office.
The response from supporters was magnificent – tens of thousands of emails were sent to candidates, covering almost every constituency in England, Scotland and Wales, making the campaign one of the biggest pressure groups in the run up to the election.
As well as giving voters the opportunity to find out their candidates’ views on the issue of justice for the Palestinians, it forced candidates to think seriously about it, possibly for the first time. And it made them realise how much a lot of people care about this vital issue of foreign policy. Some candidates reported that they had received more questions on Palestine than any other subject.
As the results poured in thick and fast, it took a huge effort to process them and we owe enormous thanks to all the students and young activists who volunteered their time to read through and input the replies so that voters could make use of the information in further lobbying at public hustings and private meetings with local candidates.
Numbers of emails
A massive 36,298 emails were sent to a total of 3441 candidates,and 1042 candidates responded – roughly one third.
Responses from candidates
The 1042 candidates who responded were from across the party divide: 190 Conservatives, 279 Labour, 28 SNP, 206 Lib Dems, 11 Plaid Cymru, 246 Green Party, 47 UKIP. We did not seek responses from the 18 constituencies in Northern Ireland.
Some candidates answered the questions directly; others gave more descriptive replies which we then judged against the questions. The result was a database tracking the views on Palestine of over 1,000 candidates – an impressive result!
Candidates in some constituencies received more than 50 emails: East Ham, Hornsey and Wood Green, Bethnal Green and Bow, Brighton Pavilion, Holborn and St Pancras, Poplar and Limehouse, Birmingham Hall Green, Bristol West, Kensington, Blackburn, Glasgow Central, Hackney North and Stoke Newington, Ealing Central and Acton, Brent Central, Leyton and Wanstead, Leicester South, Bristol South, Birmingham Hodge Hill, Brentford and Isleworth, Oxford East, Hove.
Responses from elected candidates
297 of the candidates who responded to our emails got elected:
143 Conservatives, 117 Labour, 27 SNP, 6 Lib Dems, 2 Plaid
Cymru, 1 Green Party, 1 SDLP.
Elected Conservative MPs’ responses
The majority of Conservative MPs agreed that the construction
of Israel’s settlements on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank is illegal and unjustifiable: 62% (89). A further 7% mainly agreed with that statement. No-one openly disagreed.
Nearly half – 49% – supported some form of lifting of the blockade of Gaza.
Elected Labour MPs’ responses
As with the Conservatives, there were strong views against settlements: 71% said they considered settlement construction illegal and unjustifiable.
On sanctions, 28% supported an end to trade with Israel’s settlements, and 30 MPs – a further 26% – supported looking into measures to increase pressure on settlement trade. Only 5 respondents opposed taking any measure against trade with settlements.
There was strong support for the lifting of the blockade of Gaza: 77% supported lifting it in some way.
Elected SNP MPs’ responses
- 81% said the UK government should uphold principles of equality, human rights and international law.
- 25 out of the 27 opposed settlements as illegal and unjustifiable (the remaining two didn’t answer the question directly)
- 85% supported UK recognition of the Palestinian state.
- 25 out of the 27 supported lifting the blockade of Gaza.
And, notably, the SNP supports ending the arms trade with Israel.
Liberal Democratic Party responses
The majority supported the recognition of Palestine only “when the time is right.”
They supported reviewing the EU-Israel Association Agreement and were opposed to an arms trade with states that are on the FCO watch-list, which Israel is.
Plaid Cymru and Green Party responses
The Green Party candidates generally answered positively, and Caroline Lucas, the Green Party’s sole MP, answered all our questions affirmatively.
The two Plaid Cymru MPs both agreed with the questions on settlements and the arms trade but did not answer most of the questions directly.
How we made Palestine the issue
The statements and questions on the e-tool were:
- I urge the UK Government to uphold the principles of equality, human rights and international law in all its dealings with Israel.
- I consider the construction of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to be illegal and unjustifiable.
- Do you agree that one of the first acts of the next UK Government should be the recognition of Palestine?
- Do you agree that the blockade on Gaza should be lifted immediately?
- Do you agree that we should stop trade with Israel’ settlements on Palestinian land, and stop settlement goods being sold in Britain?
- Do you agree that the EU Israel Association Agreement should be suspended until Israel meets its human rights obligations?
- Do you agree that arms trade with Israel should be suspended until Israel complies with International law?
What does it mean for lobbying?
We now have a Conservative government with a very small majority. PSC has always made clear that we are a non-party affiliated campaign, and we will be working with all the major parties to ensure that the strength of public support for justice for Palestine cannot be ignored. We also have more new MPs than were anticipated, which means that local PSC groups and national PSC will be working hard to make sure they are properly informed about the situation.
We need to build support for the lifting of the blockade of Gaza and we need to make the case for sanctions as Israel’s intransigence continues. We also have a new opportunity, given the huge influx of SNP MPs, who overwhelmingly have a positive policy on Palestinian human rights, to continue to change the mood in Parliament, a process that was given a significant boost by the pressure that supporters for Palestine exerted on their MPs during Israel’s attack on Gaza last summer, which resulted in the strong vote for recognition for Palestine in the parliamentary debate last October.
There is a clear cross-party consensus in Parliament against Israel’s illegal settlements, so we will be building on that and explaining to MPs that strongly worded condemnations of Israel’s crimes aren’t enough – action is needed.